Behaviour / neuroscience Start-up culture Strategy


The Unknown’s absence of structure, its inherent uncertainty, its cunning shape-shifting abilities, its absence of human connection, validation, routine – just the essential emptiness of the void – is too strong. The Unknown is more powerful than you are and it will be victorious over you.

20 February 2023 • 5 min read

We glamourise The Unknown, we entrepreneurs. Fetishise it almost.

Our restless identities are, in some part, determined by a willingness to take the leap from the ledge – to step out into the abyss armed only with unwavering conviction, messianic zeal and a handful of elegantly crafted Keynote slides. We – the pioneers – go where angels fear to tread, and our willingness to embrace The Unknown is what makes us sexier, stronger, perspicacious – an unstoppable force determined to bend reality to our will.

It’s what we believe separates us from the lamentable worker-drones of middle management – with their office cubicles, their dismal packed lunches and endless circular meetings, their tragic inability to see the future as clearly as us, the visionary class.

Of course this is pure vanity, and – more dangerously – a fatal misconception too.

Because the truth is – if you are starting you own business or becoming self-employed for the first time – The Unknown has the power to rise up, envelop you and ultimately destroy you. For that is its nature.

The Unknown’s absence of structure, its inherent uncertainty, its cunning shape-shifting abilities, its absence of human connection, validation, routine – just the essential emptiness of the void – is too strong. The Unknown is more powerful than you are and it will be victorious over you.

So do not go into The Unknown – it is too powerful, uncaring and merciless. You won’t survive.

Instead you need to rid The Unknown of its power; steal its potency and reduce its stature.
Chisel away at it, every day.


  1. Stop venerating your own ideas Ideas are low status things – just random hypotheses that haven’t yet been validated – this is why no one has ever grown a successful business which sells ideas. Your idea is worthless and no one cares about it; ideas themselves are a core part of The Unknown, masquerading as the opposite – something tangible and real. They are not.
  2. As a consequence, know that…If you have no track record – you will struggle to raise meaningful investment off the back of an idea. Any decent investor will ask two things – ‘What have you done about getting your idea into the world?’ and ‘How did people respond?’. In other words, if you have not taken the first simple steps to reduce The Unknown, don’t expect to use someone else’s money to help you do so.
  3. Instead fight The Unknown with early concept validationThis is not, however, the same as asking lots of acquaintances what they think. Your friends and former colleagues are the worst people to ask about anything – they like you and don’t want to hurt your feelings, so are naturally predisposed to tell you your shitty Direct-to-Consumer umbrella idea is revolutionary. So don’t mistake people saying ‘Um, that sounds cool, I guess’ as validation. That’s just your friends being kind and unwittingly perpetrating The Unknown. It doesn’t take many users in a cohort to establish whether our not you are solving a real problem, so seek early, genuine proof points and be prepared to be wrong about your hypothesis. Product/Market fit is the first goal – actual paying customers. This is the thing that moves you past The Unknown’s earliest, creeping manifestations. Thereafter everything is about the management of scale – a completely different task requiring a completely different skillset.
  4. Turns out Yoda was right all alongDo, or do not. There is no try. Never talk about what you’re going to do. Intentions are meaningless and are simply part of The Unknown, even though they feel dynamic and assertive. Talk about what you’re doing right now. Today. A strong, unflinching bias for action itself will chip way at The Unknown. ‘Done is better than perfect’ as Sheryl Sandberg would say.
  5. Be clear on why you are doing what it is you’re doingPeople are notoriously poor at understanding their own motivations for things. When you’re skirting around the fringes of The Unknown, your judgement will be impaired; you will be the archetypical unreliable narrator in the story of your own life. You will also be likely to display acute confirmation bias – there is so much at stake that it is tempting to find evidence for your hypothesis everywhere. Instead, train yourself in the opposite – what are the ten reasons why your hypothesis is flawed? Understanding these is another neat way of sneaking up on The Unknown and reducing its power.
  6. Build your own structure to your dayWithout the commute, the efficient assistant and the diary filled with meetings, it is very easy for The Unknown to fill your working day. So wake up at the same time, go somewhere specific to work that isn’t your spare room, schedule lunches with people who can genuinely help. Be ruthless with the Pareto Principle. 80% of meaningful results will come from 20% of your time/endeavours. Find out what that means for you.
  7. Exercise helps battle The UnknownSweat daily. A disciplined fitness routine mitigates the absence of certainty and structure elsewhere in your life. It also improves mental health and self-esteem and reduces stress. Quantify progress. Set goals. Stick to them. Gain the satisfaction of watching The Unknown shrink a little as a consequence.
  8. Embrace the grind. This is going to be hardYou will face rejection daily. You will set off in directions which proof fruitless. You will be unqualified for many essential tasks. You will be lonely. Much of what you have to do will be procedural and dull. All the while, as you strive to overcome constant obstacles, The Unknown lurks, waiting to envelop you in its deathly embrace. So calibrate your expectations of what it means to run your own business – it is not glamorous – it is stressful, dull, hard. Not for nothing is legendary venture capitalist Ben Horowitz’s entrepreneur’s guide called ‘The Hard Thing about Hard Things’. The Richard Branson style mythology of entrepreneurship – kite-surfing, swash-buckling, industry-disrupting – is a dangerous misconception which bears no relation to reality and does more harm than good. Instead, welcome problems and failures as chances to make yourself more robust. Never be downhearted or feel sorry for yourself. ‘That which doesn’t kill me makes me stronger’, as Friedrich Nietzsche once muttered to himself after another frustrating 18 hour day attempting to gain traction for his start-up (an app which empties human existence of meaning, purpose, comprehensible truth, or essential value).
  9. On that note – be hyper aware of your mental health.Almost half of entrepreneurs in the US report mental health conditions (according to a 2015 study led by Michael Freeman, professor of psychiatry at the University of California). The Unknown, anxiety, depression, self doubt are all close companions. Freeman’s research has shown that start-up founders are twice as likely to suffer from depression, require a psychiatric hospitalisation and to have suicidal thoughts. They are also three times more likely to suffer from substance abuse. So stay off the Adderall and be vigilant and self-aware. Look after yourself. Don’t ascribe to the macho 100 hour workweek thing. Stay sociable. Have a life beyond your start up. Display vulnerability. Ask for help. Don’t worry about proving things to people who invariably aren’t even thinking about you.
  10. Make a sign up page. Use LaunchrockDo it now. Today. Take this simple, free first step and you will already have shown The Unknown who’s going to be the boss. Good luck.
Behaviour / neuroscience Start-up culture Strategy

Discover more in

Behaviour / neuroscience